Carole Gamble dishes all the dirt on Judy Baker and Costa Georgiadis at the Byron Bay Writers Festival.

Byron Writers Festival went ahead in August at the wonderful Elements’ site in near perfect weather. It was a joyous occasion with much brain food and hilarity too.

Fellow Herald team member Judy Baker and I found ourselves near the front of a session with Costa Georgiadis and Matthew Evans talking about their new books on soil health and their lives as gardeners and food producers.

Hilariously, at one point Costa leapt from the stage on to Judy’s lap!

Afterwards I asked him if he would repeat the feat and for permission to feature the photo and talk generally about soils for The Bangalow Herald and he graciously gave it his blessing.

So, those of you who attend the Bangalow Garden Club will be familiar with my mantra: “feed the soil, not the plant” and of course it isn’t only mine.

The European settlers noticed the shortage of topsoil in comparison to where they had come from, and this precious and necessary asset has been much compromised. Now we must protect, preserve and enhance if we are to feed ourselves. Costa and Matthew, who has come to food production relatively recently, have had different backgrounds but both are passionate about producing good, nutritious, real food, year in year out.

Costa’s Greek family grew food as they always had and when I lived in inner city Melbourne, I was a bit bemused and very impressed by our Greek neighbours and their vegetable gardens IN THE FRONT where surely there should only have been roses! With help and advice and seedlings all generously given, I started growing vegetables but they were in the back. (Now they would be proudly in the front but this was the 70s!)

I know that many of us know already that we must put back. Every plant removed from the soil takes the ‘energy’ it has absorbed in growing and others are slowly realising that our soils are depleted. Many of you have fantastic gardens and all will have sometimes struggled with our difficult conditions but like our own health, good food makes us stronger.

My own very large garden is mostly heavy clay and for the past sixteen years I have put tons of cow poo from the paddocks, rotted down straw impregnated with my chickens’ contribution from their pen, compost and mulch onto all garden beds.

Having over three metres of rain in six months not only caused a massive amount of plant loss from root rot but pushed the available nutrient layer deep down where most of the roots couldn’t access it. So, apart from replanting on a large scale, before I am doing this I am preparing the garden from scratch.

It’s somewhat ironic that during our drought of 2019 I didn’t water and hardly lost anything although others were using precious and scarce water supplies trying to sustain sometimes, inappropriate plantings. Our plants went into a hibernation of sorts (lockdown!) and recovered rapidly and vigorously as soon as the rains came. Of course, they were healthy and very well mulched!

Celebrate Spring and feed those soils! The rewards are immense.

Incidentally, Costa and Matthew were both at the Festival promoting their new and excellent books which will be available at good book shops.